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Council says yes to Smart Growth on MoPac

Tuesday, January 18, 2000 by

Last zoning case heard in the old council chambers overrides petition

As their final action before adjourning for the last time in their old chamber, City Council members last Thursday dealt with what looks like a perfect Smart Growth zoning case. But in voting unanimously for a zoning change, the neighborhood-friendly council had to explain to a small group of opponents why they were willing to override their valid petition–at least on first reading.

The site at 6415 Hart Lane faces Balcones Drive and is bounded on the East by MoPac Expressway. Sarah Crocker, representing applicant Gerald Kucera Co., said the buildings are likely to fill with medical offices, whether the zoning remains LO (limited office) or is changed to GO (general office), as requested. Opponents living in the Imperial condominiums mainly complained about traffic the offices will generate.

Crocker said a site plan approved for the property in 1984 was awkward, would have caused poor traffic circulation, and had fewer parking spaces than her client wants to provide. Kucera could build that project, but he chose to have the property redesigned, she said. The new design allows for more parking and eliminates a driveway onto Hart Lane.

The Planning Commission recommended a maximum height of 48 feet, instead of the 60 feet allowed in GO-zoned property. LO zoning allows a height of 40 feet. Commissioners also recommended prohibiting access to Hart Lane and limiting the site to 1,280 vehicle trips per day. (In Fact Daily Oct. 27, 1999). The Commission recommended only LO uses be allowed, which eliminates barber shops, dry cleaning, and alcohol- or drug-counseling services, according to Greg Guernsey of the Development Review and Inspection Department.

About a dozen people from nearby condominiums and a representative of the Northwest Civic Association asked that council deny the request, even with the many limitations recommended by the commission. Maryam Gharbi of the Balcones Tower homeowners group said she couldn't believe that the developer would go through the zoning change just to get the extra eight feet of height. She asked why that change alone could not be granted, but no one answered her at the hearing. Crocker told In Fact Daily that the city does not allow variances in height in zoning cases, "if there is another remedy." Most of those speaking voiced concerns about an increase in traffic. Jim Webber, who lives in the Imperial condominiums, said he had counted traffic both in the morning and evening at the intersection of Hart Lane and Balcones. Currently, he said, there are 1,200 vehicles per hour during rush times. Allowing the zoning change, he said, "will create a difficult traffic problem" for himself, his neighbors, and anyone else who wants to walk on Balcones.

Crocker told In Fact Daily that the zoning already approved for the property has no limitations on trips per day. Under either LO or GO zoning classification, current ordinances allow 2,000 trips per day without a traffic impact analysis. Generally, planners only discuss traffic in terms less than or more than 2,000 trips per day.

After the hearing, Mayor Kirk Watson told his colleagues, "I remember the day we all stood out there in that park and talked about Smart Growth. One of the first things we said was–we pointed to the urban watersheds and we pointed to the Desired Development Zone. Now we've got a situation: It's in the heart of the Desired Development Zone. It's in an urban watershed. It fronts MoPac. The types of uses are fundamentally the same as the current zoning. The intersections that are impacted come out overall rated an A. You're actually reducing the number of entrances and fixing the parking ratio to reduce the potential for cars to park in the neighborhood from the current zoning. And we're fighting over eight feet."

After a brief of question-and-answer period, Council Member Bill Spelman made the motion to accept the Planning Commission's recommendation. Council Member Daryl Slusher observed that for their last vote, "You'd think we'd come down to some glorious battle between good and evil." When neighbors said that's what it was, Slusher replied, "Each side usually thinks that's the case. But when you're sitting up here, a lot of the time it's sort of inconclusive and it's brought on by forces beyond our control, such as the fact that 23,000 people a year have been moving here during the '90s and most of the '80s."

Lewis campaign kicks off… Council Member Willie Lewis will announce his reelection bid today at noon at Pecan Springs Elementary School, 3100 Rogge Lane. And tonight from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. he celebrates with a fund-raiser at Fado Irish Pub at 214 W. 4th St. For more information, call Lewis' campaign manager, David Terrell, at 554-1848. So far, the only challenger who has surfaced to contest Lewis' second term is former Dallas Cowboy, Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson… Kitchen raising dough… Ann Kitchen, a Democratic candidate for Representative Sherri Greenberg's District 48 seat in the Legislature, will have her first fund-raiser tomorrow evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Green Pastures, 811 W. Live Oak. For more information visit or call 444-3750… Reform Party candidates…The Travis County Chapter of the Reform Party of Texas has announced its candidates for state offices. Linda Curtis of Austin, the spark plug behind the campaign-finance reform petition of Austinites for a Little Less Corruption, is running for the District 48 seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Gilbert Rivera of Austin is running for the District 50 seat held by Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin. And Martha J. Byram is running for the District 14 seat in the Texas Senate held by Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin. For the Reform Party's entire slate, visit their web site at

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